Indians

Is Jack Hannahan The Next Casey Blake?

Jack Hannahan

The following piece is something that I never thought I would write. I also still to this day cannot understand the immense love for Casey Blake that the Indians fans and the organization itself had for this guy. Readers of this site know that I have been a Blake hater for years. But nevertheless, I saw and appreciated his value and there will be a point to all of this.

GM Chris Antonetti may soon be forced into an interesting dilemma. One nobody thought would ever be possible. That is because Jack Hannahan has become an indispensable part of the Cleveland Indians.

Jack was signed as a minor league free agent before the start of last season and was expected to be nothing more than organizational depth. This was a guy who was in the bigs for parts of four seasons, but never was any sort of factor. Hannahan spent the entire 2010 season in AAA where he hit just .237. Then thanks to a Jason Donald broken hand, Jackie became the starting third baseman. Nobody expected him to stick around all season with the big club, let alone keep the hot corner gig. 

He opened the 2011 season showing more pop than he ever has, busting out with a .273/.349/.829/4 HR/14 RBI April while the Indians sprinted into first place. The bat came crashing down to earth in May (.184/.271/.484), and June (.180/.296/.591) where he lost his job, and July (.207/.281/.592). All of the while, Hannahan was playing gold glove defense at third. But then in mid-August with the Indians searching for any kind of spark with the Tigers nipping at their heels and injuries popping up all over the diamond, they turned back to Jack and he caught fire.

He hasn’t stopped since.

The left-handed hitter closed the season strong, beat out uber-prospect Lonnie Chisenhall for the third base job in spring training, and just kept on going. Defense has always been his calling card, but the offense he has been showing since last August is borderline stunning.

Going back to last August (h/t to Jordan Bastian of Indians.com), Hannahan is hititng .374 (46-123) with four homers and 32 RBIs in 40 games. He has given the bottom of the order the pop that it has sorely needed. And we can’t forget how clutch the guy has been. He has started 6-8 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season. Every time the Indians have needed a big hit, there Jackie has been coming through. Plus, he is doing all of this while being a stellar defender at third.

Is this real or is this an illusion? Is Hannahan the late bloomer who is finally thriving at age 32 in a comfortable environment? Does this sound familiar to any of you?

Back in 2003, the Indians signed a guy who had bounced between AAA and the majors for five seasons in Toronto, Baltimore, and Minnesota to a minor league deal with a chance to make the club out of spring training. He wound up becoming their every day third baseman (and right-fielder for two seasons) for the next six years by showing up every day at the ball park and doing his job with little fan fare. He never put up “great” numbers (though look at his 2004 season when he hit 28 homers and drove in 88 RBIs) but he was a solid, unspectacular player for manager Eric Wedge (who LOVED him to a fault by the way).

That guy was Casey Blake.

You can see the similarities between the two players. They are both solid, well respected, hard-working players who are popular with their clubhouse. Both were essentially on their last chance to make it in the big leagues and were given a chance by the Indians to succeed. Lastly, both were/are a huge part of the makeup of their respective teams.

Another similarity that can’t be overlooked; both had/have the top position player prospect right behind them ready to take their job. With Blake, it was Andy Marte in 2007. You remember, the Indians took a flyer on Aaron Boone, coming off of his knee injury for the 2005 season, which moved Blake to right field. In 2006, Marte was brought in to be the third baseman of the future, and by 2007, he was the opening day starter. Casey was actually playing first base to start that season. But as Marte flamed within a month, the Indians turned to Ryan Garko at first, moving Blake back to third where he would stay for another two seasons.

Everyone knows Hannahan is supposed to be a stop gap at the hot corner until Chisenhall is ready. But Lonnie’s plate discipline still needs work, as does his glove work. In the meantime, Hannahan is playing like an all star for the Indians. So what should the Tribe do?

What I am going to say next is probably insane, but I will bring it up anyways. Yes, I know we have all seen two-month wonders like this before. They come and they go. But what if Hannahan isn’t a fluke? What if he is the next Casey Blake, a guy who the Indians unearthed and can be used for the next two to four years on the cheap?

There is no secret that this team has holes. First base and the outfield are two spots that the Indians do not have long term solutions in AA or AAA. Maybe the Tribe should consider moving Chisenhall across the diamond to first base for next season. Casey Kotchman is clearly not the future and unless he shows a dramatic turnaround will probably only be in Cleveland for this season. Or why not try to see if Chisenhall can handle left field in winter ball? Grady Sizemore won’t be back next year, Michael Brantley will be back in center field, and again the Tribe will spend the offseason trying to find someone to play left field. Shelley Duncan could be that guy, but the Tribe brought in 38-year old Johnny Damon to platoon with him. That says something.

Chiz is still young and is clearly apart of the 2013 plans. Hannahan could be too. Again, I know this is me talking about this at the end of April and Jackie could easily fall right off the table, but what if he doesn’t? There can be a place for both Chisenhall and Hannahan in 2013.

And…..cue the commenters calling me crazy.

 

  • Brian @ ClevelandSportsTorture

    Crazy? Nope.

  • ClemJax

    Let’s not forget one of the best things Casey Blake ever did for the Tribe – he became Carlos Santana. There’s a long way to get to that particular point, but if Chiz is ready, selling high isn’t exactly a far-fetched option.

    That said…let’s ride this horse as far as he’ll take us.

  • I’d go with “This is crazy” and “Sample size, please.” If Hannahan is an all-star the whole season then we can address it then. Until then, I believe he’s a solid defensive player with limited offensive upside.

  • BIKI024

    they key stat is over last 123 at-bats, let’s see how he does over 400 at-bats, oh wait, we already have seen that.  i’m a big fan of Hannahan and certainly hope he stays consistent, and if he does, it will obviously be a good problem for us to have.  

  • Not sure that Casey Blake was ever beloved by Indians fans. The organization’s love is easy to explain — he is Dolan’s son.

  • Steve

    Hannahan might have suddenly figured something out, but it’s just incredibly unlikely, and its not exactly similar to Blake. Blake came a couple years younger after hitting noticeably better in the minors (70 more points of OPS in AAA). And most people thought Blake would be able to hit in the majors, it’s just that he didn’t have a position really. He wasn’t good defensively at 3B, and certainly couldn’t play the middle infield which would have given him a shot as a utility player. Him hitting when he made the majors wasn’t really unexpected. On the other hand, Hannahan being able to hit is a suprise, and still not actually proven. His first 1000 or so PAs went as expected. Let’s let him hit for a whole year for once to see if he actually has figured it out.

  • mgbode

    slow clap.

  • mgbode

    reading above makes me think the question is deciding between these 2 options:

    A. Hannahan’s hitting is a mirage of a hot streak and with his stellar defense he may never have a higher selling point than this June.   Trade him while the getting is good (like we did with Blake) and get this organizations next Carlos Santana.

    B.  Hannahan truly has figured things out at the plate.  He has gone from great-defense no-offense player to a player who is great-defense at-least-good-enough-offense.  In other words, he made the Omar Vizquel from ’96-’02 leap.   If that is the case, then Chisenhall can learn to play 1B.

    I think scenarioA is much, much more likely to be the case and that Hannahan will always be fondly remembered (and even more so if he nets us a stud-prospect in return to boot).

  • dwhit110

    I’m eagerly awaiting the PPV cage fight between TD and Jon on this topic

  • mgbode

    also, of note, if the Indians really believed in Hannahan’s hitting acumen rising, then wouldn’t he be moved up in the order?

  • Cmcneilly

    I think you have it backwards.  When Chis is ready, you bring him up and put him at 3B.  Then, you deeply consider Hannahan at either 1B or OF, where he’d pick it up very quickly and be above average soon.  Having Chis learn a new position just as he’s trying to prove himself as a MLB player is a bad idea, unless the move is permanent.  And if its permanent, its even a worse idea, as even if Hannahan has turned a corner, he’s still 32 and doesn’t have many years left.  Its not hard to see Hannahan at 1B being an improvement over Kotchman in 2012.

  • kjn

    This is a win/win. If Hannahan is for real, you can leave Chiz in AAA all year, give him time to develop (he is only 23), and keep his MLB-time clock stopped. If Jack’s offense isn’t for real, then we got to delay that clock a bit and gave him some developmental time.

  • Steve

    It may not be hard based on a couple weeks this season, but Kotchman has about 10 points of career OPS+ on Hannahan, is 3 years younger, and is the better defensive player.

    And I go back and forth on what to do if Chisenhall is obviously ready and Hannahan has kept up this gold-glove defense, decent-enough hitting. You have to play Hannahan at 3rd, because that gives you the best chance to win, but Chisenhall is clearly the future. Would be a good problem to have.

  • kjn

    While I agree that selling high may be smart, I don’t see the front office doing that during “our window”. Everything over the last year and a half shows them to be serious about competing the next two seasons. Going with an unproven rookie while trading away what many would see as a good-to-great player for prospects? Don’t see it happening.

  • JohnMellor

    Poor man’s Travis Fryman.

  • Harv 21

    Casey Blake was old, 29 when he adhered to the good ship tribe like an unwanted barnacle. Hannahan is 32, really really old to suddenly “get it.”
     
    With a few brief exceptions, Casey had about the worst clench-jawed, tight sphincter approach to at bats with RISP ever seen, always a sucker for the bounced breaking ball with two strikes. Every Hannahan hit seems clutch, clearly the result of some pact with the devil.
     
    Casey could grow a beard in hours. Look at the pic of Hannahan above; I could do better in high school.
     
    I had an irrational dislike of Casey, or more accurately the love he received (almost Shelley-like). Hannahan is less unlikeable, because nobody in their right mind thinks he won’t suddenly fade when the pitchers start bothering to watch his tape and find the holes, much as happened to him last June or so.

  • kjn

    Come August, it’s gonna be hard to justify moving Hannahan to first for the Tribe. What with 30+ HR Matt Laporta entrenched there.

     That’s right — optimism.

  • mgbode

    that could very well be the case.   then, we hope for optionB.

  • mgbode

    add in that Hafner will still be entrenched at DH putting up an OPS+ year of 160 or above and there won’t even be DH ABs to take!

    don’t worry though.  Seattle will continue their woeful hitting and give us a call willing to give up King Felix for Chisenhall 🙂

  • EyesAbove

    Lonnie is hitting at Columbus (.881 OPS) but only has 2 walks to go with 15 strikeouts. Id like to see those numbers level out a bit before they give him the 3rd basemans job. Or maybe Im just a sucker for Hannahan and therefore totally biased in my opinion. Im kinda hoping Jackie gives us a full season at 3rd. Even if he regresses to an average hitter he still has value because of his glove. We’ll see.

  • Casey Blake NK.

  • Nobody

    Well, Hannahan isn’t the next Casey Blake, I actually like Hannahan as a player…but he’s definitely a keeper (unlike Blake).

  • USSChoo

    Kotchman is probably equal to what Jack would do at 1B, defensively, over a full season. Even if he is better, he is in no way substantially better. Then, if you throw out Kotchman’s 2011 BAbip inflated numbers, you’re left with a substantially lower OPS+, much more reflective of where Kotchman appears to be as a hitter. So, now you’re talking about virtually identical offensive track record with Jack looking to inflate those numbers going forward.

    That said, I don’t think you’ll see either of these two here in 2013, unless Jack’s offense returns to Earth and he is resigned for positional depth/defensive replacement. If his offense stays throughout the whole year, he becomes the perfect candidate for a trade piece to upgrade OF or 1B in a real way.

  • Steve

    Hannahan may be learn to be equal to Kotchman defensively at 1B in 2013 and beyond, but there’s no way that he’s going to be as good as Kotchman this year, without having gone through an offseason and spring training learning to exclusively play the position.

    And Hannahan’s success also came with a BABIP-spike. That’s generally how it works.  Even if we take out Kotchman’s 2011 and Hannahan’s 2012 (and leaving in Hannahan’s August 2011 w/ the .514 BABIP) Kotchman still has 7 points of OPS+ over Hannahan. And the age thing still matters.

  • Steve

     I know, I know. Everyone remembers Blake’s AVG w/ RISP that one year (which one was it again?).  But the guy was a useful-to-good player. I’ll be shocked if Hannahan lasts till 37, much less approaches Blake’s 23.6 WAR

  • He started the season batting 9th, tonight he’s batting 6th.

  • mgbode

    he batted 7th last night.  thankfully, they finally moved him ahead of Kotchman, but Cunningham pulled up the 9-hole, so I was under the assumption that once Brantley is back, he would be in the 8 or 9 spot again.

  • mgbode

    ok, did some checking.  he batted 6th in the “getaway” lineup on Sunday, but was 8th on Saturday and Friday(ahead of only Donald).  I stand by the above comment.